10 Facts About Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten | History Hit

10 Facts About Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten

Amy Irvine

21 Sep 2022
Admiral of the Fleet The Right Honourable The Earl Mountbatten of Burma KG GCB OM GCSI GCIE GCVO DSO KStJ ADC PC FRS
Image Credit: Portrait by Allan Warren, 1976 / CC BY-SA 3.0

Louis Mountbatten was a British naval officer who oversaw the defeat of the Japanese offensive towards India during World War Two. He was later appointed the last British Viceroy of India, and became its first Governor-General. Uncle to Prince Philip, he shared close links with the royal family, famously acting as a mentor to the then Prince Charles, now King.

Mountbatten was killed by an IRA bomb on 27 August 1979, aged 79, and his ceremonial funeral in Westminster Abbey was attended by the the royal family.

Here are 10 facts about Louis Mountbatten.

1. Mountbatten was not his original surname

Louis Mountbatten was born on 25 June 1900 in Frogmore House, in the grounds of Windsor Castle. He was the son of Prince Louis of Battenberg and Princess Victoria of Hesse.

He lost his full title, ‘His Serene Highness, Prince Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas of Battenberg’ (nicknamed ‘Dickie’ for short) – when he and other royals dropped Germanic names in 1917 during World War One and the family changed their name from Battenberg to Mountbatten.

2. He shared close links with the British royal family

Lord Mountbatten’s great-grandmother (and indeed one of his godparents) was Queen Victoria, who attended his baptism. His other godparent was Tsar Nicholas II.

Lord Mountbatten’s godparents – Left: Queen Victoria holds Lord Louis Mountbatten; Right: Tsar Nicholas II.

Lord Mountbatten was also Queen Elizabeth II’s second cousin, and the uncle of Prince Phillip. (His older sister, Princess Alice of Greece and Denmark, was Prince Philip’s mother.)

Estranged from his father at a young age, Prince Philip developed a close relationship with his uncle who took on a father figure role after Philip’s family was exiled from Greece in the 1920s. Indeed it was Lord Mountbatten that introduced Prince Phillip to a 13 year-old Princess Elizabeth in 1939. Before marrying into the British royal family, Prince Philip needed to renounce his title as Prince of Greece, so took his uncle’s surname instead.

King Charles III is Lord Mountbatten’s grand-nephew, and Prince William and Kate Middleton called their youngest son Louis, supposedly after him.

3. His ship was immortalised in a film

Mountbatten joined the Royal Navy in 1916, specialising in communications and received his first command in 1934 on the destroyer HMS Daring.

In May 1941, his ship HMS Kelly was sunk by German dive-bombers off the coast of Crete, losing more than half the crew. HMS Kelly and its captain, Mountbatten, were later immortalised in the 1942 British patriotic war film ‘In Which We Serve’.

Within British naval circles, Mountbatten was nicknamed ‘the Master of Disaster’ for his penchant of getting into messes.

4. He predicted the attack at Pearl Harbour

While in command of HMS Illustrious, Mountbatten visited the American naval base at Pearl Harbour and was shocked by what he perceived as a lack of security and preparedness. This prompted him to think America would be dragged into the war by a surprise Japanese attack.

At the time, this was dismissed, but Mountbatten was proved correct just three months later by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941.

5. He oversaw the disastrous Dieppe Raid

In April 1942, Mountbatten was appointed Chief of Combined Operations, with responsibility for the preparation of the eventual invasion of occupied Europe.

Mountbatten wanted to give troops practical experience of beach landing, and on 19 August 1942, the Allied forces launched a seaborne raid on the German-occupied port of Dieppe in France. Within 10 hours, of the 6,086 men who landed, 3,623 had been killed, wounded or become prisoners of war.

The Dieppe Raid proved one of the most disastrous missions of the war, and was considered one of the biggest failures of Mountbatten’s naval career. Despite this, he was enlisted to help plan for D-Day.

80 years ago today on 19 August 1942, a 6,000 strong combined Allied landing force took part in a raid on Dieppe, Northern France. In this episode to mark the Dieppe Raid's 80th anniversary in 2022, James is joined by David O'Keefe who has uncovered declassified material proving how the disastrous raid concealed a secret pinch mission to steal one of the Nazis' Enigma code machines.
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6. He was appointed the Supreme Allied Commander, South East Asia Command (SEAC)

In August 1943, Churchill appointed Mountbatten the Supreme Allied Commander, South East Asia Command. He attended the historic 1945 Potsdam Conference and oversaw the recapture of Burma and Singapore from the Japanese by the end of 1945.

For his war service, Mountbatten was created Viscount Mountbatten of Burma in 1946, and Earl in 1947.

7. He was the last Viceroy of India and its first Governor-General

In March 1947, Mountbatten was made Viceroy to India, with a mandate by Clement Attlee to oversee an exit deal with Indian leaders by October 1947, or oversee the British withdrawal with no deal by June 1948. Mountbatten’s job was to make the transition from colonial property to independent nation as seamless as possible. 

India was on the verge of civil war, divided between followers of Jawaharlal Nehru (rumoured as Mountbatten’s wife’s lover), who wanted a united, Hindu-led India, and Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who wanted a separate Muslim state.

Lord and Lady Mountbatten meet Mr Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the future leader of Pakistan.

Image Credit: Image IND 5302, collections of the Imperial War Museums / Public Domain

Mountbatten was unable to persuade Jinnah of the benefits of a united, independent India. To expedite matters and avoid civil war, in June 1947 in a joint press conference with the Congress and the Muslim League, Mountbatten announced Britain had accepted the partition of India. He outlined the division of British India between the two new dominions of India and the newly created state of Pakistan, in the ‘Mountbatten Plan’.

The partition on religious lines resulted in widespread inter-communal violence. More than a million people were killed, and over 14 million forcibly relocated.

Mountbatten remained as interim Governor-General of India until June 1948, then served as the country’s first Governor General.

Dan Snow and Anita discuss her family's heartrending experience living through Indian Partition.
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8. Both he and his wife had many affairs

Mountbatten married Edwina Ashley on 18 July 1922, but both admitted many affairs during their marriage, particularly Edwina who is said to have engaged in 18 trysts. It is thought they eventually agreed on a ‘discreet’ open marriage to spare the shame of a divorce.

After Edwina died in 1960, Mountbatten had several relationships with other women including actress Shirley MacLaine. In 2019, FBI documents dating from 1944 became public, revealing claims about Mountbatten’s sexuality and alleged perversions.

Louis and Edwina Mounbatten

9. He famously provided mentorship to King Charles

The two shared a close relationship, with Charles once referring to Mountbatten as his ‘honorary grandfather’.

Mountbatten advised the then Prince Charles on his relationships and his future marriage, encouraging Charles to enjoy his bachelor life, then marry a young, inexperienced girl to ensure a stable married life. This advice contributed to the prevention of Prince Charles from initially marrying Camilla Shand (later Parker Bowles). Mountbatten later wrote to Charles warning that his affair with Camilla meant he was on the same downward slope that had changed his uncle, King Edward VIII’s life, with his marriage to Wallis Simpson.

Mountbatten even attempted to set Charles up with his granddaughter, Amanda Knatchbull, but to no avail.

Prince Charles with Lord and Lady Louis Mountbatten at Cowdray Park Polo Club in 1971

Image Credit: Michael Chevis / Alamy

10. He was killed by the IRA

Mountbatten was murdered on 27 August 1979 when IRA terrorists blew up his boat while he was fishing with family off the coast of County Sligo in north-west Ireland, near his family’s summer home at Classiebawn Castle on the Mullaghmore Peninsula. 

The night before, IRA member Thomas McMahon had attached a bomb onto Mountbatten’s unguarded boat, the Shadow V, which was detonated shortly after Mountbatten and his party left the shore the next day. Mountbatten, his two grandsons and a local boy were all killed, the Dowager Lady Brabourne later died from her injuries.

The assassination was seen as a show of strength by the IRA and caused public outrage. Mountbatten’s televised ceremonial funeral took place in Westminster Abbey, attended by the Queen, the royal family and other European royals.

2 hours prior to the bomb’s detonation, Thomas McMahon had been arrested on suspicion of driving a stolen vehicle. Police later noticed flecks of paint on McMahon’s clothes which forensic evidence concluded matched Mountbatten’s boat. McMahon was sentenced to life imprisonment, but released in 1998 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

Amy Irvine